[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Ground Wars by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is an essential new bible for political campaigns locked in the everlasting battle that has become modern American politics.
This book is useful for everyone from a neophyte about to join their first campaign to career campaign operatives and consultants. Neophytes will gain a broad overview of exactly what to expect on their first campaign, with the benefit of having their upcoming experience framed within the broader picture of politics. Career campaign operatives and consultants will appreciate the book’s focus on the “ground war” as an essential component of the modern campaign, as well as the historical background on how we got here, which many of them will have experienced firsthand. In the short time Nielsen spent embedded in campaigns and in authoring this book, he has managed uncover and write about what few who live and work in politics are even aware of.
Readers will come away from this book with a deep understanding of:
Who is involved in campaigns and what to expect from their involvement;
The emergence of personalized political communication;
The use of people as the medium for personal political communication and the various techniques and workflows relating to each attempted, successful or failed interaction;
A detailed picture of how campaigns are organized, how the various components interact and why;
The tools used in targeting voters, who uses them, what they provide and the broader picture behind the tools and how they were developed; and
The effect of personalize political communication, what to expect in the future and ultimate thoughts on for whom and when it can be truly effective
In addressing the above, Nielsen’s focus is on investigating “personalized communication in political campaigns” that consists of canvassing and phone banking activities by volunteers, and paid full and part time staff, which most refer to as the “ground war” from which the book takes its title. Most who have been involved in a campaign have heard it described using the single word “field” or, finally, the word made famous by our current President: “organizing.”
The book begins with Nielsen as an observer-volunteer on the 2008 Democratic Congressional campaigns of Jim Himes in Connecticut and Linda Stender in New Jersey, where his experiences are easily generalized using colorful stories in each chapter to illustrate the kind of classic situations on the campaign trail that I have seen and experienced myself, and that readers are likely to see themselves no matter the campaign they work on.
These examples serve as an ongoing reference point as Nielsen analyzes the political communications methodologies with such depth and academic rigor that he even cites Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. These analyses are set forth with sufficient explanation that the text could easily be used in a political communications course at any university.
The scope expands further from the 2008 Congressional races as Nielsen examines the re-emergence of the ground game from its previous heights in the seventies, to its recent spike following the new millennium. This larger treatment provides background for changes in how campaigns are run, such as the effect of changes to federal campaign finance laws like McCain-Feingold and court decisions such as Citizens United. It also provides rare insight into the national leadership and its decision making over time around investments made in personalized political communications, from software like voterfiles to infrastructure for mobilizing, like Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy.
As a working political consultant who has helped coordinate field campaigns to oust incumbents, built his own voter file, and as a current candidate for New York City Council, I felt as if this book was written just for me. It is a refreshing reminder of what is in store for me in the coming months. With my undergraduate degree in communication and rhetoric I appreciated the academic context and the rigorous research that went into this text, so that it is much more than one might expect in the form of the typical campaign war stories and post-win or loss navel contemplation that too many often afford themselves. The historical context made me chuckle as I am able to look back with fondness for the challenges that we’ve overcome, and smile with how far we’ve come today. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.